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How to Avoid Injuries in Winter

There are only three things that are for sure in life. Death, taxes and winter. Considering it’s not tax time, and trusting that you’re in good health and follow best practices for your personal safety, winter will likely be the next one you need to deal with.

When most people think of winter, it’s of the cold, dark nights, and the praying for springtime to arrive. Unfortunately, the effect of winter on many people can be much more painful, and permanent than any coldness, darkness or hope.

From its recreational activities to its chores, and even just walking an icy sidewalk, winter seems packed with the potential for personal injury.

Winter sports, including sliding down mountainsides at great speeds and running into each other at great speeds on sheets of ice, pose obvious risks.

But even around the home, when you compare the staple summer chore of mowing the lawn to the staple winter chore of lifting and throwing heavy shovelfuls of snow and ice, it’s easy to see why you’re more at risk of hurting yourself in winter versus any other time of year.

The most common injuries suffered in winter include separated shoulders, knee sprains, torn ligaments, pulled muscles, fractured wrists, lower back pain and broken bones. And none if this includes increased risk of heart attack due to over exertion, especially when snow shoveling.

Armed with that knowledge, you have the opportunity this winter to go into it more aware of the things that can hurt you and take steps to avoid injuries.

For Everyone

1. Warm up

Of course, “warm-up” means your muscles. But, your muscles are even colder in winter. Not only are cold muscles more prone to injury, when we are cold due to lower temperatures, we often tense-up against the cold, which makes it even more important to stretch your neck, shoulders, back, arms and legs before any activity.

2. Pace Yourself

Especially early in the season; for the first few hockey games, first few times on the slopes and first few snow shoveling days, it’s more important to pace yourself, don’t push through any pain and don’t over-exert yourself.

Not only will not pacing yourself increase your chance of suffering musculoskeletal injuries, but, in the case of shoveling and hockey, lifting too much or staying on the ice for an extended shift can greatly increase your risk of heart attack. And that risk increases exponentially as you get older.

3. Wear Good Footwear

Worn shoes and boots will slip more easily on snow and ice, even when you’re walking carefully. Make sure your footwear has good treads and spread sand anywhere on your property that you suspect ice might be.

Especially for Snow Shovelers

While the tips above can help protect you from injury in most winter activities, snow shoveling carries its own particular risks. Basically, for many of us, shoveling snow and ice can be a “shock” to the system. It’s an activity that involves as much exertion as many high-energy sports, yet most of us aren’t in shape for ‘high-energy sports’.

In addition to everything we’ve mentioned about so far, take the following precautions when shoveling snow.

1. Take Frequent Breaks

Yes, it’s cold outside, but you’ll be warmed up due to the shoveling and breaking frequently will lower your chance of over-doing it.

2. Minimize Twisting and Bending

Throw shovelfuls forward and step in the direction of the throw.

3. Bend Your Knees, Keep Your Back Straight and Lift with your Legs

This is the basic technique for reducing injuries when lifting anything heavy, and that’s what you do with every shovel.

4. Use an Ergonomic Shovel

It will help you do everything in point #3.

5. Keep Loads Small

There’s no need to maximize how much your shovel can hold on every stroke.

6. Stop at the First Sign of Pain, Shortness of Breath or other Difficulty

Considering the level of exertion you’re putting yourself through when shoveling, pushing through pain or any other sign of stress is even more dangerous than normal. and there’s yet another added danger. In the winter, cold temperatures can make our muscles, ligaments and bones less sensitive to pain. So, when you feel a twinge, the problem that causes it might be far worse than just a twinge.

Winter’s coming, that’s for sure, but by practicing some caution and awareness, getting hurt this winter doesn’t have to be.


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